The last time I ate at Lucky Strike, the lived-in little bistro on Grand Street, I noticed that the bar’s copper covering had long ago chipped off in a way that seemed unintentional; the omelet I ate was probably no better or no worse than what you’d get at the other little bistro on the opposite side of West Broadway; and it would be charitable to call the bartender’s mood “indifferent.”
So, as an eating and drinking establishment, it was basically fine. But as a part of New York City, and a living monument to the “way the city used to be,” it’s irreplaceable. Lucky Strike was, of course, one of Keith McNally’s early hits, a reliable beacon for hungry neighbors since it opened in 1989, and proof that Soho really had been cool at some point in its history.
Now, as Eater reports, it’s closed for good. McNally, who is himself recovering from the coronavirus, tells the site that the COVID-19 pandemic made the restaurant’s financial situation untenable. This is a bummer, mostly for the people who had hoped to work there again one day, as well as for anyone looking to squeeze out a few more good memories inside its narrow dining room over plates of steak tartare and salade niçoise.
Its closing also feels like the beginning of something more ominous, a first-domino-to-fall sort of situation. How many New York restaurants operate under similar circumstances — good not great; managing but not exactly thriving? How much longer will those restaurants’ backers hold out before they decide to throw in the towel, to say that waiting out the end of this shelter-in-place limbo just doesn’t make sense anymore? At a certain point, the smart business decision is to close; lingering nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.
The best-case scenario, after all, is that things get back to the way they were. What does that mean for restaurants that were merely scraping by before the pandemic hit? Will their owners just go back to hoping they can make ends meet? The reality is that, even when we can all go out again, restaurants may be mandated to open at 50 percent capacity, staffers might have to wear masks, and it will be more difficult than ever to turn a profit.
The figure that we’ve all seen thrown around is 75 percent: Three out of every four independent restaurants won’t make it through this shutdown without some kind of government assistance that, with each passing day, looks less likely to arrive. Even if you bank on a number that’s far more conservative, like half, that is not just one or two more beloved spots closing down. That is a New York restaurant landscape blighted beyond any kind of recognizable version of itself, and it is depressing to think that, in addition to all the other fear and anxiety we have right now, the coming weeks and months could involve watching these restaurants not so slowly disappear.